Fashion for book covers

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For a minute yesterday, I thought I was having an 80’s flashback. My publisher invited me to help her pick out headbands and gold foils. Seriously?

Oh yes. Very. It turns out much fashion sense goes into designing a hardcover book. Here’s what I learned at  Joggling Board Press’s HQ as we went over the proofs for “The Other Mother: a rememoir.”

ImageThat’s Susan Kammeraad-Campbell, my editor and publisher, peering through the overlay that represents everything embossed and shiny on the cover. “The Other Mother” lettering will be raised; I’ve figured that much out. And a little shiny — though I’m sure Susan’s cringing as she reads. It’s actually called spot laminated something or other. 



Here comes the headband part. I wasn’t kidding. See that striped red and gold piece of fabric at the base of the book’s spine? It’s called a headband. I’ve never noticed them before, but that’s because they’re normally a boring black or grey that blends in with the hardcover. Nothing bland or ordinary will do for “The Other Mother” — if Byrne Miller ever wore a headband I’m sure it was as groovy as our gold and magenta pick.

And finally the gold foil part…


See all the little gold medallions I’m holding? Intern Sylvie (on the right) helped me pick the perfect shade of gold to serve as “The Other Mother” lettering on the cloth-like interior cover. It had to complement that gray swatch Susan’s holding in the middle — if you ever lose the dust jacket on this hardcover you’ll still have an elegant, modern looking hardcover for your bookshelf. 


As Byrne often said (one of my favorite womenisms) … “If you’re going to be a snob, be unrepentant!”




Fun with commas in sex scenes

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2013-05-04 Other Mother 6x9 cover 300dpi

“The Other Mother” is finally at the printer – where it will be transformed from a gigantic electronic file to a 417-page,  hardcover memoir with a beautiful embossed cover in a satiny matte finish. That last part makes my publisher and her staff moan and drool. Though I know nothing about the subtleties of paper textures and finishes – the team at Joggling Board Press does.

I was handed sample after sample of hardcover books and told to touch and feel. I pretty much commented on the heft and weight of tome, which elicited more groans. Apparently gloss is uncool and satin matte finishes are sexy. I wanted sexy for Byrne and figured the design phase was the end of it.

Turns out there’s sexy in the proofreading process too. Take, for example, commas. I’d like to blame my woeful inadequacy in comma placement on the fact that I was raised in South Africa, a country more influenced by British grammar than American. That’s what the proofreading team at Joggling Board Press assumed when my propensity to use the “Oxford” comma became evident. But in truth I just toss commas into sentences based on reading my own work aloud.  I did pass AP style class in journalism school, honest I did. But I immediately began writing scripts instead of articles and in the world of broadcast, punctuation is a rhythm not a rule.

So how, you ask, are commas sexy?  Take the moment Byrne first meets Duncan. She is 24, he is 18 and wears a twist at the corner of his mouth that makes her wonder if he’s smiling or laughing at her. This is how the sentence looked before a marathon, nine-hour proofreading session before we put the book to bed .

“I’m a Southerner who misses the water,” he said. It was a genuine smile, she was certain of it, once she saw the sparkle in his eyes.

 Alas, the interior designer and the future-editors who are interning at JBP were not as certain of my meaning. So this is how they fixed it.

“I’m a Southerner who misses the water,” he said. It was a genuine smile; she was certain of it once she saw the sparkle in his eyes.

The first sex scene in “The Other Mother” comes on page 63 – when Byrne and Duncan consummate their almost-instant attraction in Central Park (back then the section known as “the Ramble” really was overgrown and possible to hide in.) But before they’d even unlocked limbs, the unconventional, free-spirited Byrne popped a question that shocked the younger Duncan.

“What kind of wedding shall we have?” she asked him when the spasms of his release still ricocheted through his body. She held him captive for an answer, her long, bare legs               wrapped around his solid waist under the cover of her swirling skirt.

Can you spot the problem with the sentence?(and I don’t mean to imply that she should have waited until after the wedding to be tumbling in the Ramble.) The JBP team decided “when the spasms” should be “as the spasms.” I never thought I’d be discussing the grammar of a sex scene in such detail, let alone with super-smart interns, some still in high school.

It turns out nothing shocks them, except bad punctuation. In a scene where a much younger Teresa butts heads with an immigration official, there is much mental cursing. In the book, I indicate inner-dialog by italics, and in this sentence I’m insulted by the immigration official’s assumptions.

Fuck you mister, I don’t owe Sonny anything.”

 Before I could even blush at my own language, the youngest intern at JBP pointed out that I missed a comma after fuck you. Sorry, dear readers, it appears I have a lot of commas to catch up on.

Losing Alejandro Santiago

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An artistic legacy

TeresaBruceBooks' "Right Brain Safari"



Artists have an advantage when they die. Their work, particularly if they’re successful, preserves their legacy. They don’t have to rely on a loved one dragging out a family photo album to remind grandchildren of their existence. I know this and yet I’m still deeply saddened by the passing yesterday of my favorite artist, the Oaxacan painter and sculptor Alejandro Santiago.

Longtime readers of my blogs will remember my unsuccessful pilgrammage to find the depopulated village he immortalized in his Migrante project, and my elation at winning best screenplay at the Oaxacan International Film Festival because the prize was  a statue by Santiago.

On the night of the awards ceremony, I didn’t get to meet Santiago because he was still making the trip back from Mexico City where the statues were cast into bronze. But later the film festival organizers took me to his home, where I met his…

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On Faith and Trayvon

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I can’t shake the wave of sadness that hit me with Saturday’s verdict in Sanford, Florida. If I was religious it might have shaken my faith but because I’m not it might have strengthened it. Let me explain.

I was raised by an angry atheist. My father blames God for the death of my little brother and I can’t blame or judge him for that reaction because I don’t have kids and can’t fathom the pain of wrongfully losing one. But here’s how it played out.  Growing up in my household, people who need the Bible to make decisions about right and wrong were ridiculed. That’s what brains are for. You shouldn’t do the right thing only for fear of eternal damnation. People who do bad things and then ask for forgiveness on Sunday are hypocrites. Religion caused all wars, yada yada yada.

I rebelled, as all teenagers do, and got a full scholarship to a Church of Christ college and found my religion classes to be the most meaningful of my entire academic experience. I’ve come to realize that my father’s objections to God essentially pivot on the problem of evil, which is not that different than where I part ways with organized religion.

But stewing over the Trayvon Martin verdict yet again this morning, I realized that my secular worldview is equally incapable of solving the problem of evil. I like to think that the principles of democracy can preserve human dignity and promote collective consciousness. I accept the rules and laws arrived at through this secular system even when they are personally inconvenient or overreaching. Basically I’ve substituted one rule-book-and-punishment approach for the one ridiculed by my father.

The problem is, the secular system of right and wrong failed Trayvon Martin. Rules and laws written by fallible men made it possible for a lawyer to defend George Zimmerman in open court by calling a teenager, walking on a sidewalk, “armed” with concrete. Our secular system justifies one man following another, hiding a weapon and shooting to kill when he begins to lose a fight with someone half his size.

Even if Zimmerman has not a racist bone in his body, he couldn’t see that if everyone behaves the way he did it would end civilization. He showed no evidence of an internal moral compass, at least the kind you need to make decisions without the aid of religious beliefs. Zimmerman couldn’t see how wrong his actions were because he had a rulebook to rationalize them.

I’ve read the Bible in its entirety. I don’t refer to it everyday or consider it infallible, but what I remember of its commandments makes much more sense than the laws that allowed Zimmerman to escape any consequences at all. 


My first words in the New York Times

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My first words in the New York Times

Hey there… the very cool arts beat blog at the NYT asked for readers to share the catalyst for their careers in TV – and my story got picked!

5 Steps to a Great Stay-cation

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How awesome of the Fourth of July to fall on a Thursday, giving us a four-day weekend and a chance to try out something new: a stay-cation. Normally by July we’re swelteringly in need of a break from 100% humidity. But after a week in Santa Fe last month I’ve actually developed a renewed appreciation for humidity (a broken down air-conditioner at the moment notwithstanding) So instead of hitting I-95 ourselves for a getaway, we invited some friends down from Washington DC.  I can’t remember a nicer four days staying in one place, so I thought I’d share my top 5 tips for anyone else hanging close to home this summer.

1)   Invite out-of-towners to join you. It’s so easy to take your hometown for granted and the best cure is to see it through fresh eyes. It might take some convincing – most non-Southerners would rather slit their wrists than face the sizzling heat and oozing humidity we’re famous for. But tell them to check the weather stats. Right now I’d argue we’re having the best weather in the country. Eating at Duke’s BBQ in Walterboro never tastes as good as when two friends sitting across from you are groaning in ecstasy. I’d forgotten how quirky and hospitable antiquing in the Lowcountry can be, or how sumptuous and eccentric the squares of Savannah appear to outsiders.


2)   Invent a signature cocktail for the stay-cation. Think about it. When you go stay at a hotel in some resort destination you probably don’t sit around the pool drinking the same old cheap beer. You try new cocktails and find yourself reminiscing for years about the perfect habanero margarita you had in Tulum. For our stay-cation, I adapted the signature martini of a famous New York restaurant: The Indochine. It required some preparation: infusing a bottle of vodka with the core of a pineapple and a plug of peeled ginger and not touching it for two weeks. But when I filled the silver-bullet martini shaker with 3 oz. of the steeped vodka, 1 oz. of Cointreau, 1 oz. of fresh squeezed lime and a gulp of pineapple juice it was the beginning of a new story for me and my DC friend Marlene.


3)   Go camp. As in, remember all the best parts of summer camp when you were a kid and recreate them. Here in the Lowcountry we have winding tidal creeks to explore by kayak and loggerhead turtle beaches to comb for hours. But even if your stay-cation is in a big city I bet you’ll have a blast tooling around it by fat-tire bicycle.


4)   Stay up way past your normal bedtime and sleep in like a slovenly teenager. It’s all about breaking the routine and indulgence. Now I’m usually nodding off by 11pm so this was tough for me. The solution was another Beaufort treat: the drive-in movies. Nothing says you’re on vacation like lawn chairs under the stars while you congratulate yourself for not paying full price to watch Lone Ranger.

5)   Finally – unplug.  It will never feel like a vacation if you’re checking emails and tweeting your every thought and observation before you’ve even experienced it. Here’s a game to get you started. Have an Indochine martini or two and then throw out a theoretical question. Actually banter back and forth with conversation instead of looking it up on your phone or I-pad. I bet you’ll remember those answers and conspiracy theories long after Wikipedia becomes cliché as the word “stay-cation.”



A Picture Can’t Stop Time

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Art can transport you to another place. It can pause time. But it can’t stop it. Yes, I’m on about time again, because on our New Mexican ramblings I got to see two places I assumed art had immortalized.


The first was the site of the adobe church in Hernandez where Ansel Adams famously captured a lonely moonrise. It’s my favorite of all his images because I’ve always imagined this desolate, remote place as protected, looked over each night from above. I’m not religious but this photograph explains why people have faith. It reminds me of the aloneness I felt as a kid living on the road with nomadic parents. No matter how far from home we traveled in our dilapidated camper the same moon still rose and set above me.


Ansel Adams could not make his photograph today. The dirt road where he set up his tripod to capture the moonrise is now a four-lane highway, minutes from a sprawling, dusty city called Espanola. Even under the glow of a rising moon you couldn’t see the church’s cross from the road’s high vantage point because it is obscured by ordinariness. Its foreground is subtracted, diminished by squatty buildings, power lines, unloved yards and broken down cars.


We drove down to the church anyway and I asked Gary to take this picture in the dog hours of the afternoon. He didn’t have a wide-enough lens to document the surrounding squalor so this shot makes it look better than the harsh truth. The sun felt like it was peeling back my skin, branding me with disappointment. Even the graves to the side of the adobe church seem abandoned and overrun by time.


The same disappointment washed over me when we stopped at Francisco de Assisi – in Rancho de Taos. The view of this church that Georgia O’Keefe painted was never meant to be photo realistic. She isolated the lines, blended colors and smoothed shapes into the weathered strength she saw in all of New Mexico. But it had always been real to me, my favorite of all her paintings, until I saw it in person. It’s hemmed in by Taos now, buildings so close on three sides it feels claustrophobic. 


It was under renovation when we arrived — the patched up adobe still wet and the smell of straw filling the air. In a way the construction debris made me feel better – this place is still revered enough for periodic face lifts.  I have no right, I realize, to demand that time stand still for my benefit alone. I don’t even worship in these structures built by those who do. And that’s the crux of it. I’m clinging to an aesthetic while those for whom Hernandez and Assasi were intended experience it as a living house.


It was less unsettling, in a sad way, to find these ruins on our way to Georgia O’Keefe’s studio and house in Abiquiu. This once beautiful adobe outpost of faith is returning to a state of rest – dust to dust, literally. There are telltale signs that it will be missed – a giant handmade cross leans into a patch of dead cactus and someone tacked a rosary to a crumbling wall.

Perhaps, when it is gone, its absence will be more present than famous churches, forced to coexist and change along with us.